MANILA, SEPTEMBER 12, 2008 (STAR)  A TASTE OF LIFE By Heny Sison - I am the latest recruit to a prestigious society of serious foodies who swear by the taste and drool-inducing aroma of bagoong alamang... recognizing its versatility to bring joy to the dining experience as a form of relish to main courses like kare-kare, sinigang na bangus belly sa bayabas at bagoong, boneless garlic chicken inasal (a perfect match to manggang hilaw — there can absolutely be no substitute!) (Talk about contrasting flavors; opposites do attract!) And on certain days the main course itself, ladled over steaming white rice.... glorious!

Finally, the humble sawsawan that has kept Pinoy households together for generations gets its due. Bagoong Club is one of the newer restos in town to offer Filipino cuisine with the menu revolving around dishes incorporating bagoong as its vital ingredient... And I always commend entrepreneurs who promote our very own. Situated in Quezon City along Dr. Lazcano St. near Tomas Morato Avenue, this cozy diner has built a solid following of patrons in its first year of existence and its membership just keeps on growing. Count me in as their latest inductee!

Seriously, it takes more than a novel concept to make a business venture work; when the novelty fades, what then? That’s where hard work and dedication come in.

For Rosky Sevilla, an investment banker who worked for IFC, the investment arm of the World Bank, before becoming the country head of British Investment Bank and CFO of Maynilad, retirement was an opportunity to pursue a business idea that had been nagging him for years. True, he had no experience in restaurant operations, and even less knowledge in the nuances of cooking (I honestly think that the closest thing to cooking he’s ever done is to reheat leftover food in the microwave oven). But what the man did have up his sleeve were the main ingredients to success: guts and determination plus his expertise in marketing (being a graduate of Kellogg Management School in Chicago, ranked as one of the top marketing schools in the United States.)

With his heart in the right place and his marketing skills at the ready, he equipped himself the necessary tools to make his dream a reality. I remember him with fond amusement as one of my most awkward students in my knife skills class — one of the first lessons he had to master in the Cooking Essentials course. He really started out clueless, like a baby learning his first steps. But that did not faze Rosky. I remember him as a student who was very enthusiastic in class, asking so many questions and practicing the techniques until he got them down perfectly. True to his vision, he put up Bagoong Club and I am happy to hear that business is doing very well. I myself was intrigued and had long planned to drop by but never found the time.

I love the interiors. It has a Filipiniana feel to it yet distinguishes itself from other generic “fiesta” themed eateries. Credit goes to Francisco, Rosky’s younger brother.

My husband Benny and our friends were greeted with appetizers of singkamas strips to be dipped in a choice of Bagoong Clubs’ signature flavors: there was Asya, which is ginisang bagoong; bagoong umaga for those with a taste for chili; and Bagoong Europa, fermented shrimp paste with a Western twist. There was a pleasant hint of basil in this concoction, and I decided this was my favorite.

Too bad there aren’t bottles available for customers to buy and take home, despite numerous requests. Rosky is afraid the product will not meet the demand because they do not have enough supply of alamang. At the moment he is still looking for more suppliers. And pretty soon bagoong powder is in the works. I got to sample it that night — and I wouldn’t mind taking home these gourmet goodies as soon as they are on the shelf.

That night we were treated to inventive takes on native classics, and here are my memorable mentions:

• Okoy which comes in huge servings is a visual delight and will not disappoint the taste buds. The medley of sliced kamote, green peppers and carrots is crisp, sweet and fresh, and the shrimps tasty.

• For me, anything with the vitamin-rich malunggay is definitely recommended so I tried the bulalo sa mongo broth with malunggay leaves. It was so delicious!

• I threw caution to the winds and indulged myself in the diner’s house specialty, crispy pork binagoongan. I totally enjoyed each deep-fried crunchy bite mingling with the taste of gata (coconut cream)and bagoong guisado as I assured myself for the nth time that I will start on my diet tomorrow.

• There’s always room for dessert, and I went for a slice of pastillas de leche cheesecake — one of the delightful creations of Pixie Sevilla-Santos. Its pristinely white elegance is deceiving; its exquisite taste will entice you to go for seconds.

It’s good to know that Tristan Bayani lords over the kitchen as head chef and consultant. I foresaw greatness in this guy way back when he took The Essential Cooking Series back in school. His creativity and passion for his craft is reflected in his culinary creations. He furthered his skills under the wing of Ed Quimson when he interned at Chef Ed’s.

Good food brings on great times. That evening was marked with hearty talk, laughter and warm smiles all throughout the meal. The Club that boldly puts the humble bagoong on a pedestal will surely garner more loyal members to its growing list of gourmet lovers!

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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